Pro Prose: Two former College Football Playoff stars struggle in their rookie seasons

It’s no surprise that there’s a huge learning curve in the National Football League, particularly at the quarterback position. Learning completely different offensive systems, struggling to find chemistry with an entirely new group of receivers and running backs and competing against the best defensive players in the world takes more than a few weeks of adjustment. 

Rookie starting quarterbacks struggling out of the gate isn’t a new phenomenon and certainly isn’t indicative of the rest of their careers. Peyton Manning, who is one of the best quarterbacks of all time, threw more interceptions, 28, than touchdowns, 26, his rookie year. But for teams whose fans are growing more and more impatient, it’s about time we start asking some tough questions. 

What’s going on with Trevor Lawrence? 

Trevor Lawrence has had a disappointing start to his NFL career, but the Jacksonville Jaguars have historically not been the best place for a young quarterback to learn the position. In fact, Blake Bortles is probably the best quarterback to come out of Jacksonville, and he is currently a free agent. Since his departure, Jacksonville hasn’t been able to figure out its quarterback situation.

Lawrence had a great college career, dominating his freshman season and bringing a national championship to Clemson University. With only four interceptions and 30 touchdowns, Lawrence’s decision-making abilities and arm strength quickly shot his name to the top of the draft board. 

But so far, he has struggled to find his footing in the league. Through three games, Lawrence has a completion rate of only 54% and has thrown a whopping seven interceptions with only five touchdowns. The Jaguars are 0-3 and will be lucky to throw together a few wins this season. 

Calling Lawrence a “bust” at this point would be foolish. The Jaguars’ offense desperately needs improvement in the tackle and tight end positions. Combined with a subpar defense, Lawrence doesn’t have the elite weapons he was used to at Clemson. However, Lawrence’s decision-making has been a red flag at times. 

Most of Lawrence’s interceptions have come within the pocket and without overwhelming pressure from the opposition’s defensive line. He has simply missed his targets time and time again, delivering some highly questionable passes. Lawrence will have to deliver his throws more quickly in order to catch defenses off guard. 

Jacksonville’s new head coach and Ohio State University legend, Urban Meyer, might not be the best fit for Lawrence or even the NFL. Going from the college game to the pros is a tall order. Despite being a master recruiter, Meyer has produced very few NFL-caliber quarterbacks. Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Dwayne Haskins are just a few of the Ohio State flops in the NFL. While Meyer and Lawrence will have a grace period of a few years, Jaguars’ fans have been waiting too long to be disappointed yet again. 

When will the Bears invest in protecting Justin Fields? 

The Bears have frankly been a mess under head coach Matt Nagy’s control. After going 12-4 in Nagy’s first season, which was more of a byproduct of Chicago’s dominant defense than the mediocre Mitchell Trubisky-led offense, the Bears have only disappointed. Trubisky fell off, Chicago’s defense clearly peaked in 2018, and the play calling has been questionable. 

Enter Justin Fields. Wait, I mean Andy Dalton. 

The decision to start Andy Dalton over the Bears’ first round quarterback was controversial and boring — fans wanted to see their new quarterback, who showed his toughness on a national stage last year after fighting through a rib injury to win the Sugar Bowl with Ohio State. 

After seeing Fields play so far this year, Nagy might have been on to something by starting the 11-year veteran Dalton, who is now recovering from a knee injury after going down in Week 2. 

In his first NFL start Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, Fields went 6 of 20 for 68 yards with one interception. He was also sacked nine times for an overall loss of 67 yards. Thus, as a team, the Chicago Bears gained a single yard in their passing game. Oof. 

To be fair, the Browns have one of the better defensive units in the league, led by one of the premier defensive ends in Myles Garrett. Additionally, the Bears have a subpar offensive line which perhaps contributed to the fact that Fields was sacked nine times this Sunday. 

The Bears simply must upgrade their entire offense in order to complement Fields’ play style. A better offensive line, particularly against the pass rush, is a must for the Bears. Chicago gave up so much for linebacker Khalil Mack, who solidified the teams’ defense as one of the best in the league a couple years ago. Now, the Bears are running out of time to take advantage of the remainder of their defense’s prime. 

Patrick Warren is a junior providing updates and opinions on all things professional sports. His column “Pro Prose,” runs every other Thursday.